November 26, 2012
By Hans A. von Spakovsky
The proposal that the federal government set new "minimum" standards for state voter registration systems is a bad idea. This is being pushed by so-called election reform and civil rights organizations as another step toward the federal takeover of the administration of elections.
Even ignoring the possible constitutional problems with such a pre-emption of state authority, it's a fantasy to imagine that federal bureaucrats would come up with better standards that would administer elections more effectively or efficiently.
After all, one of the reasons that state voter registration rolls are in such poor shape today — with large numbers of voters who are dead, have moved, or are non-citizens — is because of the restrictive standards imposed by the federal government in 1993 by the National Voter Registration Act.
That law made it very difficult to remove ineligible voters. Local jurisdictions were sued so often by the Justice Department when they tried to remove ineligible voters, many stopped trying to clean up their lists at all.
That is why there are many places around the country where the number of registered voters is greater than the Census says there are individuals of voting age.
The situation would only get worse if federal bureaucrats with no election administration experience in Washington were given the authority to set more standards for voter registration systems. Even if it there weren't constitutional problems, there is reason to fear that the federal government would make a terrible mess of it.
Many of the groups pushing this idea have a disproportionate influence on federal policy and a history of partisanship and opposition to common sense reforms such as voter ID. This is a recipe for incompetence and manipulation. Decentralization was designed to preserve our freedom and accountability. We should fight to keep it.
There are improvements that states can make in the administration of elections, and many are pursuing them. But a one-size-fits-all regulatory regime, run by Washington bureaucrats appointed by the president, won't work. The citizens of the 50 states, through their duly elected representatives, must keep control of the process.
Hans von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former member of the Federal Election Commission. He is the co-author of Who's Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk.
First appeared in USA Today.
Hans A. von Spakovsky
Manager, Election Law Reform Initiative and Senior Legal Fellow
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